"Each one of us should learn from a small baby how to behave," the Rebbe, Reb Zishe would announce time and again to his talmidim.
We may well ask what there is to learn from a mere baby, who doesn't have wisdom or experience to guide him.
Explained Reb Zishe:
A baby is straightforward and honest. When he wants something, he cries and the moment his needs are fulfilled he is happy and contented. No pretenses, side- thoughts, afterthoughts or imaginary worries. This absence of falsity is what gives a child his unique "chein," that angelic innocence that no adult can fail to love.
One often wonders where this beauty disappears to as the child grows older, and Reb Zishe's observation gives us the answer. It is the light of a child's emes shining forth that gives him his special radiance. As he grows older, sheker and falseness begin to creep in, dulling the brightness and removing its chein. Sheker has no chein.
My grandfather, R' Shlomo Stern, zt"l, a renowned mohel, would often tell those to whom he taught milah, "You can learn something from every person — and from every mohel, too; from some you learn what to do and from others what not to do!"
Eizehu gibbor? Hakovesh es yitzro.
"How did you start your long and difficult journey from chiloni to living a life as a fully observant Torah-true Jew?" the interviewer asked an old student of Arachim, who is now a long-standing marbitz Torah.
His answer is simple, but with a forceful impact. "I was walking the streets of my hometown, Tel Aviv. As I neared the city center, I saw a young chareidi bochur studying the buildings one at a time, apparently looking for a certain office. Right next to the address he sought, there was a video store, plastered all over with obscene pictures.
"I watched in amazement as the boy lowered his eyes and quickly passed by the shop, as though it did not exist. It suddenly struck me that I was witnessing a new phenomenon, for the first time in my life: That of immense self-control.
"Where does a young boy, who sits in yeshiva all day, with no worldly experience muster the strength to overcome his natural inclination to look, just once, and just once more? No one he knows is watching him, I mused, yet his inner strength prevents him from giving even a glance in that direction.
"I had come across powerful people in my life, men whose bravery had earned them medals of honor, generals with gold wings on their lapels and shoulders, none of whom could boast of such self control. Each one has fallen more than once into the snare of taharoh and to'eivoh.
I understood that beneath his black clothes, somewhere deep inside this chareidi boy lay the secret to the strength I had just seen. I began to seek the source of his power and found it existed in the Torah of which I had been taught so little. Those were the first tentative steps on my long and arduous journey, and today I understand fully the depth of the mishna that asks: Who is the true gibbor? One who conquers his yetzer hora!"
To his large audience gathered at the Arachim seminar, he continued with a story he had heard from his teachers many years earlier.
"The famous advocate on behalf of the Jewish nation, Reb Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev came into the shul as night was falling before ma'ariv on the first night of Pesach. Looking around, his eyes fell on a simple Jew. With a gleam in his eye, he strode over to him and whispered in his ear, "Yankel, give me some chometz!"
Yankel jumped up as though stung by a bee. "Chometz? Me? What does the Rebbe think I am? I burned the last crumbs of chometz this morning."
But the Rebbe continued to plead, "Come on, you're an expert smuggler who deals on the black market. Bring out from your hiding place just a little chometz." Shocked and upset, the man began to cry, "Rebbe, please believe me, I don't have a crumb of chometz to give you."
Apparently giving up on him, Reb Levi Yitzchok turned to another Yid with the same request, "Just give me a bit of chometz." Upon receiving the same reply all over, he went to the bimah and, with a bang, silenced the astonished people. "We all know that Berditchev is a town of smugglers," he announced, "and who are the best smugglers if not the Yidden? I want you all to bring your smuggled goods that you've brought in the last two months over the border here into the shul."
Their consternation only overcome by their curiosity, the Jews dispersed to their homes to quickly obey the Rebbe's command, strange as it was.
Within half an hour, the shul began to fill up as its congregants came puffing and panting in under the weight of their smuggled contraband. Cartons of taxable coffee, reams of expensive material, jewelry, and more, all were lugged in quickly, to the growing satisfaction of Reb Levi Yitzchok.
When everyone had returned, Reb Levi Yitzchok opened the aron hakodesh, spread his hands wide and turned his eyes heavenward.
"Ribono Shel Olom," he proclaimed. "Look at Your holy people. Our mighty ruler has stationed guards with guns at all the borders to prevent the smuggling of forbidden contraband. The threats of heavy fines and months of miserable imprisonment hang over the heads of those who dare to contravene the law. Yet here we have a hall full of smuggled goods, which we have managed to accumulate.
"On the other hand, You wrote in Your Torah, `There shall not be seen chometz.' Just a simple sentence, no guards, no guns, no inspectors and yet even the simplest Jew who may crave a loaf of soft bread, has not a crumb of chometz to show me. Who is like Your people Yisroel!"
His impassioned declaration caused a tumult in Heaven, canceling a harsh decree that was hanging over Klal Yisroel at the time.
Rabbeinu Rabbi Mordechai Yaffe zt"l is a name that rings with the fame of his ten-volume Sefer Halevushim. The reason he merited to illuminate the path of Torah Jewry with these important seforim is revealed in the following episode in his younger years.
As a young boy, the Levush was strikingly handsome. Once, he happened to be in the king's palace on business. The queen, struck by his appearance, managed to trap him in a room and locked the door, intending to cause him to sin, R"l.
Looking around desperately for an escape route, R' Mordechai saw there was none. The only hole out of the room was a garbage chute leading to the muck pile next to the stables of the royal horses.
There was no way he could use the chute as an escape. After a moment's consideration, however, he decided that if that was the only way, then it was a way. Before he could reconsider, in a single, swift movement, the young boy sprang towards the filthy hole, closing his eyes and holding his breath against the pungent smell. Within moments, he had landed in a mountain of muck and, from there, managed to escape.
The degradation to which Reb Mordechai had exposed himself, sullying his clothes and appearance with mesirus nefesh, caused a great stir in Heaven and he was rewarded by being the author of Levushim, the heavenly clothes for all of Jewry's future generations.
Eizehu oshir? Hasomei'ach bechelko.
Reb Dovid Deitch, a talmid of the Nodah Biyehudah, was a great talmid chochom. His was a life of destitution and poverty, yet he was so far above worldly needs that he had no idea that he was missing anything.
Once, the Chasam Sofer, zt"l, came to visit him in his humble dwelling. The guest watched in amazement to see that R' Dovid's only cutlery was an old wooden spoon. The Chasam Sofer could not help staring at the spoon, contemplating the poverty it denoted.
Noting his guest's eyes fixed on his one wooden spoon, Reb Dovid hurriedly exclaimed, "I see you like my wooden spoon so much. I don't want the Chasam Sofer to transgress the commandment of "Lo Sachmod." I hereby give you my spoon as a gift with all my heart!"